Monday 20 October 2008

Obama not Socialist, say Socialists

The Chicago Tribune has worked hard to ferret out a few American socialists - mainly Marxists and communists as it happens - who are pretty clear that Obama is not one of theirs.

And, if an opinion from the Fabian Society - which did a good deal to invent the non-Marxist, democratic socialist tradition - is of any relevance: clearly Obama is not a socialist.

Rather, Obama is a moderately liberal, centrist Democrat.

While it draws on different strands of political ideas, the US liberal Democrat tradition of FDR, JFK and LBJ has shared a number of common features with social democracy in Europe, not least in saving capitalism from its own worst excesses.

That helped to give the market economy public legitimacy: the gains from growth in both the US and Europe benefitted wide swathes of society, and there was a social safety net in place (though not universal healthcare in the US).

The McCain campaign believes that Obama's wish to "spread the wealth" has let the socialist cat out of the bag. But this does not seem to be nearly as effective with voters as they think.

Obama's answer should be a simple one. US economic growth used to spread the wealth well - but it no longer does so. And much of that has been due to a political choice - to transfer the wealth to the top. Never before in US history have such a small number gained so much while the majority stand still.

As Paul Krugman put it in a 2006 essay for Rolling Stone on 'the great wealth transfer'

Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -and they know it.

This stagnation for the majority during a time of plenty has also threatened the nation's ability to make economic gains: rising protectionist sentiment reflects the fact that the gains of global trade have left most Americans out.

So Obama's ads have been putting across his message of tax cuts for most Americans (he says 95%) with an increase only for those who earn more than $250,000 a year more effectively than anything McCain is saying.

He also won all of the viewer polls after the debates, mainly because he connected on the need for action to address the economy, while McCain always returned to the need for government to cut spending and do less.

And, as Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told the Chicago Tribune. "I think it's hard for McCain to call Obama a socialist when George Bush is nationalizing banks."

Did Barack "Spread the Wealth" Obama Just Blow the Election?, asks James Pethokoukis and several other over-excited right-wingers.

But this seems to me to fit the usual rule: if a headline asks a question, and the answer 'almost certainly not' seems to answer it, feel free to move on.

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